The name Captain Cook is synonymous with exploration and discovery. Yet very little is known about the man outside of these references. Who exactly was Captain James Cook?
Born on 27 October, 1728, in Marton, a small village in Yorkshire, James Cook’s upbringing was far more pastoral than naval, being raised on the farm his father worked on. This all changed in 1745. The young Cook began work in a grocery store in Staithes, a fishing village near the busy port of Whitby. With exposure to the marine world, Cook turned his hand to sailing, undergoing a sea apprenticeship for a firm of Whitby coal shippers, who traded between North England and London.
Traversing up and down the country for almost a decade did wonders for Cook’s sailing acumen, and indeed his reputation: in 1755 the young sailor was approached by the Royal Navy to join their fleet.
Literally thrown in the deep end, Cook served in the Seven Years’ War against France and then spent five consecutive summers surveying the Newfoundland coast.
Cook’s first major voyage of discovery commenced in 1768, when he was appointed commander of the Endeavour. The initial objective of the trip was to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti, a rare event that measures the distance of the Sun from the Earth. Cook used this hook as the perfect opportunity to explore the region further, turning south to chart the enigmatic coasts of New Zealand and eastern Australia.
With curiosity piqued, Cook made a second voyage between 1772-1775 to chart the Atlantic. It was during this trip that Cook voyaged closer to the South Pole than any other man before him, mapping a plethora of lands from Tonga to South Georgia.
Cook’s third voyage proved his last. Making the first comprehensive study of Northwest America, Cook went onto discover the Hawaiian islands. Alas all was not peaceful in paradise: hostility erupted between his crew and the natives, which quickly spiralled into outright fighting. On 14th February 1779 Cook was attacked by a gang of warriors, whereupon he was beaten and plunged into the sea. Legend withstanding, Cook never rose again.